March 25 (Reuters) – Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, the first time Moscow has based such weapons outside the country since the mid-1990s.
Putin’s announcement comes amid rising tensions with the West over the war in Ukraine and some Russian commentators speculating that nuclear strikes are a possibility.
Putin told state television that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long raised the issue of deploying tactical nuclear weapons in his country, which borders NATO member Poland.
“There is nothing unusual here: first of all, the US has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allies,” he said.
“We have agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, without violating our international obligations on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, I emphasize.”
Putin did not specify when the weapons would be transferred to Belarus. “Tactical” nuclear weapons refer to those used for specific gains on the battlefield.
Russia will complete a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1, Putin said, adding that Moscow would not actually transfer control of the weapons to Minsk.
The US State Department and the Pentagon did not immediately return messages for comment.
Russia has stationed 10 aircraft capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he said, adding that Moscow has already transferred several Iskander tactical missile systems to Belarus that can be used to launch nuclear weapons.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, nuclear weapons were used in all four newly independent countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
In May 1992, the four states agreed that all weapons should remain in Russia, and the transfer of warships from Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan was completed in 1996.
Reporting by David Lungren Editing by Matthew Lewis and Deepa Babington in Ottawa
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